WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
California speaker/singer Jackie Francois told teens at the Holy Trinity Parish youth rally, 'All of us have this deep longing in our hearts to be loved.'
For the third straight year, Alexandria Blunt, a Grade 9 student, made the trip from Sherwood Park to the youth rally at Holy Trinity Church in Spruce Grove/Stony Plain.
This year, Alexandria came away with new insights into the nature of love.
"True love is so different from the world's view," Alexandria said in an interview after listening to talks by Jackie Francois, keynote speaker at the Feb. 2 rally.
"From the speech she gave about what true love is, she made me realize that it's not what the world makes it out to be."
So, how did Francois, a singer/songwriter and worship leader from Orange County, Calif., describe love?
"All of us have this deep longing in our hearts to be loved. We all have this desire in our hearts to give ourselves away to love," she said.
Retelling the creation story from Genesis, Francois said people are made in the image and likeness of God. Since God is love, this means humans are made in the image and likeness of love.
"It's not weird that we want to be loved. It's not weird that we want to be in a relationship because that's what we're made for," she said.
Francois emphasized that in every relationship, just as in the Trinity, there must be the lover, the beloved and the love between them.
"In the Bible, the most-used image to talk about God's love for us is a husband and wife. That's the closest image that we have to show God's love for us," said Francois.
In this broken world, a lot of us don't see good marriages. Growing up, Francois did not see marriages that reflected God's love.
"God brought to me married couples as I got older to show me what his love is all about. Those marriages showed me what it looks like to have unconditional, real, authentic love," she said.
"The love between a husband and wife is supposed to be a foretaste of another marriage.
"The love between a man and woman is supposed to point us to the eternal ecstasy, eternal love. Marriage is what points us to heaven."
In the Bible, heaven is likened to a divine wedding feast.
Alexandria said the youth rally is a powerful event where youth gather for singing, praying and praising God together.
Indeed, the event was a mixture of music, meals, Mass, Reconciliation, prayer, games and small group discussions.
Lilianne Dargis, a Grade 8 student from Sacred Heart Parish in Wetaskiwin, said, "My parish always has news about this kind of stuff. I've been to them before, and it's always been really fun, so I came to this and it's the same."
She especially liked listening to Francois' talks.
"This person doing the talks, she has been amazing, and you can really relate to her. She makes it so fun to listen to because she's not just talking but actually getting into the actions," said Lilianne.
Nearly 200 teens, in Grades 7 to 12, took part in the youth rally. It's the 11th year that Holy Trinity Parish has put on the major rally.
Lilianne's older sister, Rose Dargis, is in Grade 11. She has been to several of the rallies, and they never cease to astound her.
"There is always stuff like this going on, and I heard that she (Francois) is a really good singer, so I decided to come out. Sure enough, she has you laughing," said Rose.
"She's not boring, and she really gets you into what she's saying, so you can learn from her."
Rose also learned through listening to Francois. She learned that "being Catholic isn't just about obeying rules, but it's also about having a relationship with God and how we can improve on that, and how it affects your life every day."
Francois spoke on chastity, true love, and how marriage is preparation for heaven.
In Grade 8, she promised that she would never use street drugs, never get drunk on alcohol, and not have sex before marriage. She is 29 now, and through the grace of God she has kept those promises. She is engaged to be married this summer.
"We are inclined to sin. We have these desires created by God that become twisted and now, rather than wanting authentic love, we'll settle for lust. Rather than desiring to wait for marriage to have sex and give ourselves away to one person, we now settle for hooking up," said Francois.
She told the youth that such sins are a cancer to the soul. Holiness is difficult, and that's why some people lose faith or abandon the Church. But every time a person sins and asks God for forgiveness and strives to avoid those same sins again, the result is even greater closeness to God.
"Saints are not people who don't sin. Saints are people who, every time they missed the mark, they tried again," said Francois. "They pray to the Lord to help them from messing up again."